No more wading through websites: Israel’s popular HitPad app brings automated news curation to the iPad.
Lacking the sort of briefing staff enjoyed by presidents and prime ministers, most of us can’t get our daily news without wading through websites, Facebook updates, tweets, RSS feeds, and now Google+ — pressing “refresh” whenever we need a new hit of data dopamine.
HitPad offers a better way. The Israeli-made app for the Apple iPad, downloaded more than 300,000 times since its release in April, analyzes the news and presents what its server-side data-crunching algorithms determine to be the top stories at any given hour.
The results are presented in a colorful, five-column screen, divided according to News, Tweets, Videos, Web and Photos. You can tap any text blip to read the full story.
HitPad goes against the grain in that it’s deliberately not personalized. That makes it more like a newspaper, only with lines of code deciding on content instead of flesh-and-blood editors. But it is not just a prettier way of displaying “trending topics” as Twitter does.
“Yes, Twitter’s trends show you what people are talking about,” says HitPad co-founder and CEO Jay Meydad. “But 95 percent of it is nonsense. It’s mainly noise.”
HitPad monitors online newspapers, blogs, social media, including Twitter. One tech reviewer dubbed it “active curation.”
Meydad tells ISRAEL21c that HitPad’s ultimate aim is to be the largest database of trending topics in the world. Once there is enough data, HitPad can start “visualizing” a story – when did it break into the news, when did it drop to page two? The trending data it is compiling could be licensed to other companies’ products, Meydad suggests.
For all of HitPad’s emphasis on objective trending, however, there are ways to personalize the experience. You can like (or dislike) a headline or article or you can add it to your “favorites” to track specific topics or companies.
And HitPad learns users’ preferences and tastes. If you want to give HitPad access to your Facebook or Twitter account, that information can be used too. Tapping “share” within the HitPad app sends an article to your social media friends.
Not an RSS reader
If compiling headlines from external sources sounds familiar, it’s because Google News has been doing it for a while – and got into some hot water from publishers claiming Google didn’t have the rights to use their content to sell ads around. Isn’t HitPad playing with the same fire?
Perhaps, although Meydad says that HitPad is merely grabbing headlines already publicly syndicated via RSS, to be read using tools such as Google Reader. And clicking a headline always fires up the iPad’s Safari browser to open the full story on the publisher’s website.
“We are agnostic to the publishers that are providing the data,” Meydad adds, so there’s no reason to cut deals in advance.
HitPad is not itself an RSS reader, which is by definition totally personalized. “It’s not our core value,” he says. “There are plenty of good RSS apps out there where you can monitor your friend’s tiny blog. But that doesn’t mean it’s trending. It’s not at the same level as The New York Times or CNN.”
HitPad is totally different than news display apps such as Flipboard, Meydad explains. “Flipboard just takes your Facebook and Twitter feeds and displays them in a really nice way. But it won’t tell you what’s trending. In fact, the two apps actually work very well side by side.”
Founded by friends
HitPad was founded by Meydad and partner Nir Holtzman Ninio, now the company’s CTO. The two had worked together on a startup in Israel 11 years ago, but then Meydad split for the US and worked at Spark Networks, the umbrella company for some 30 dating sites, followed by contextual advertising service Snap.com, part of the IdeaLab incubator started by pay-per-click millionaire Bill Gross.
When Meydad decided to move back to Israel after seven years abroad, Gross provided the $275,000 seed investment for Meydad’s concept.
For the first few months, HitPad’s offices were housed in a cooperative space for startups called The Junction. The company moved to Ramat Gan at the end of June, and has been raking in some impressive achievements.
The app has been reviewed more than 1,300 times, with an average rating of 4 (out of 5) and above. HitPad has also achieved the holy grail of free marketing: Apple picked HitPad to be one of 20 apps featured on demo iPads in Apple stores, and chose HitPad as one of its “apps of the week.”
For now, like most apps, HitPad is free. In the future, there will be paid features and contextual advertising. Meydad says the company is now looking to expand to other tablet platforms, particularly those running Google’s Android.
How about the iPhone? “We haven’t figured out how to do that well yet,” Meydad says, referring to the iPhone’s tiny (by comparison) screen. “But it’s definitely on our roadmap – hopefully by early next year.”